U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt toured a Nevada gold mine's expansion project Tuesday that he says was made easier by the Trump administration's streamlining of environmental regulations to expedite permitting for commercial development on federal lands.
He also said some U.S. Bureau of Land Management's workers are likely to end up in the rural northeast Nevada town of Elko as part of the agency's plans to move its headquarters to Colorado next year.
Bernhardt said streamlining of the National Environmental Policy Act is one of the reasons the newly formed Nevada Gold Mines committed to the expansion at the Cortez Mine about 170 miles northeast of Reno. One of the executive orders President Donald Trump signed last year requires such reviews be completed within a year.
Greg Walker, executive managing director of the company formed by the recent joint venture between Barrick Gold and Greenwood Village, Colorado-based Newmont Goldcorp, praised the regulatory reforms. He said the old process delayed completion of environmental impact statements for 18 months.
"Some 98 percent of our former, current and planned operations are on public land administered by (Department of Interior) agencies," Walker said.
Conservationists say the expedited reviews short-circuit federal regulations that have protected natural resources, fish and wildlife for a half-century.
"Today's dog and pony show was a con being perpetrated on the American people by the gold-mining industry and their cronies in the Trump administration," said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director for the Center for Biological Diversity
"Bernhardt is gutting bedrock environmental protections and handing over our public lands to the mining industry so it can continue to poison Nevada's groundwater and destroy important habitat for our beloved wildlife," he said.
Bernhardt said the mining industry's gross domestic product has increased 39 percent since Trump took office.
"Part of that is having a commonsense regulatory framework," he told the Elko Daily Free Press before touring the mine that's been in continuous operation since 1862 about 30 miles south of Battle Mountain.
"We have made our processes more streamlined to ensure that decisions are made more quickly but still with high environmental standards. And what that means is that there's more predictability to our process at Interior," he said.
Nevada is the biggest U.S. gold producer. BLM officials, under the jurisdiction of the Interior Department, are primarily responsible for conducting environmental reviews and issuing permits necessary to mine on federal land.
The Interior Department said in announcing plans to reorganize the BLM last week that about 300 bureau employees currently located in Washington, D.C., would end up at the new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado, by the end of 2020.
It estimated about 50 would relocate to Nevada, with about 40 to 45 each in Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.
"Nevada is really a leader when it comes to our mining programs, so maybe our best experts should be located in Nevada," Bernhardt told the Free Press.